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TOM MERRITT: Coming up, how an English student from Tampa
rose to bone-shaking heights in the world of steampunk.
VERONICA BELMONT: Yes, keep watching or a hoard of zombies
will maul you with their dirigibles.
It's our Sword and Laser guide to author Cherie Priest.
COMPUTERIZED VOICE: Sword and Laser.
VERONICA BELMONT: Hello, everybody.
And welcome to the Sword and Laser.
I'm Veronica Belmont.
TOM MERRITT: And I'm Tom Merritt.
VERONICA BELMONT: I don't know.
There's a lot of smoke back there.
It went to my head.
And just, yeah.
TOM MERRITT: Yeah, plus we have a whole new little thing.
VERONICA BELMONT: Yes.
We have a new thing to tell you about.
It is an author's guide episode today where each week,
we're going to bring on an author, have them up to the
space castle, tell you all about their previous works,
and really let you get to know them.
We'll ask your questions, too.
TOM MERRITT: This week, it's our guide to Cherie Priest,
author of "Boneshaker," which won the PNBA and Locus Awards
and was nominated for the Hugo and the Nebula.
VERONICA BELMONT: Cherie Priest's work covers the
spread of genre fiction.
She's sometimes described as an author of Southern gothic
or horror novels and at others times as an author of science
fiction or steampunk.
TOM MERRITT: Cherie was born in Tampa, Florida.
She got a BA in English from Southern Adventist University
and an MA in Rhetoric from the University of Tennessee.
She's had 12 books published.
VERONICA BELMONT: Yeah, and Cherie's not afraid of the
internet, sharing her progress on her writing on her blog.
And her current project is called "Fiddlehead," which is
due October 1, 2012.
The book is a 19th-century DC spy caper about a powerful
Difference Engine that will end the Civil War.
TOM MERRITT: Her award-winning "Boneshaker" novel came out in
September 2009 and tells the story of Dr. Blue's Incredible
Bone-Shaking Drill Engine, which burrows through the
Alaskan ice looking for gold, but instead finds a vein of
blight gas that if breathed, turns you into living dead.
VERONICA BELMONT: Ah, zombies.
TOM MERRITT: Yes, good old zombie stuff.
VERONICA BELMONT: Yes.
And according to amazon.com, her most popular novel is
"Dreadnought," which came out in September 2010.
The Civil War steampunk thriller tells the story of
nurse Mercy Lynch whose husband dies and then her
estranged father gets injured.
She goes off in search of her father, but her dirigible is
shot out of the sky.
TOM MERRITT: Ah, hate it when that happens.
VERONICA BELMONT: I know.
She ends up on an enormous Union steam engine called
Dreadnought, which, while moving away from the war, is
constantly being attacked, most likely because of its
very strange secret cargo.
TOM MERRITT: Secret cargo?
What is it?
VERONICA BELMONT: It's a secret.
TOM MERRITT: You'll have to read the book.
So let's meet Cherie Priest.
Lem, our dragon, is putting in the call right now.
While he gets connected, please enjoy this look at
today in alternate history.
VERONICA BELMONT: Cherie, thank you so much
for joining us today.
CHERIE PRIEST: Thank you for having me.
I'm excited to be here.
VERONICA BELMONT: We have a lot of great questions from
our viewers over on Goodreads.
So the first one comes to us from Joe.
He says, "You've frequently incorporated the places you've
lived into your stories with great effect.
Can we expect to see your recent return to Tennessee
similarly inform your next book?"
CHERIE PRIEST: Well, I hope so.
Well, the immediate next project is "Fiddlehead," which
will come after "Inexplicables," which is
about to be out, because publishing runs on these
The one I'm finishing up right now is actually set in
Washington, DC, where I have never lived, in fact.
But my brother does.
I don't know if that counts.
So after that, I'm not entirely sure, actually.
We're kind of drawing the steampunk arc, if not to a
close, to kind of a good stopping point.
And I might try and tackle a few other projects from there.
But I'm very excited to be back in the southeast.
And I have always enjoyed writing about it.
TOM MERRITT: So the steampunk train is
coasting into the station.
CHERIE PRIEST: Coasting, yes.
This is Chattanooga.
We have a choo choo here.
TOM MERRITT: Oh yeah, right.
CHERIE PRIEST: Yes, and you might be about to
have a cat in frame.
VERONICA BELMONT: That's OK.
TOM MERRITT: That's fine.
We love cats on this show.
VERONICA BELMONT: We're a cat-friendly show.
CHERIE PRIEST: If a big black blob comes across the--
TOM MERRITT: Our dragon will not eat your cat.
CHERIE PRIEST: Excellent.
TOM MERRITT: Aaron writes, "I was first offered 'Boneshaker'
as a young-adult novel.
Do you consider it that?
How do you feel about people categorizing it that way
CHERIE PRIEST: Well, it was not written as
a young-adult novel.
And in fact, originally Zeke's point of view was not part of
But a couple of my beta readers were very insistent on
the point that, well, he's missing.
And it'll show the city from another perspective.
And you won't just have this one vehicle character.
And so I went ahead and wrote it in.
And then all these teenagers picked it up.
And teachers started giving it to the difficult middle-grade
reader segment, which is teacher code for boys.
And suddenly Scholastic picked up part of one of the print
runs, and it was off from there.
I was a teacher myself for a while, though it was with
And the great thing about young adults is they don't
read a book and then just put it in a drawer.
They tell all their friends, and they make all their
friends read it.
And I love young adults.
So I'm delighted that it's made its way into that market.
TOM MERRITT: Aaron also wanted you to comment on the
religious themes in your work.
He asked if your upbringing influenced your writing.
CHERIE PRIEST: Uh, well, for those who aren't--
it's no big secret.
When I'm feeling less generous, I tell people I was
raised in an eschatological cult.
Realistically, I was raised as a fairly conservative
And they're one of those, Jesus is
coming back any minute.
Like, right now.
Like no, now.
VERONICA BELMONT: No, not now.
CHERIE PRIEST: No, no, no.
VERONICA BELMONT: And wait for.
Wait for it.
CHERIE PRIEST: Now.
VERONICA BELMONT: Now.
CHERIE PRIEST: Right.
I mean, my earliest memories were of being terrified.
Literally being at church and just being utterly horrified.
Because when Jesus comes back, if you're a good little girl
and if your heart is pure and if he's forgiven you for all
your sins, then you get to go to heaven.
But you can't take your pets.
And well, your father's probably not going to go,
because he's a horrible person.
And all of your friends I don't like.
So besides the fear that you are not good enough to go, to
make the cut anyway, then there's this idea that you're
leaving everyone and everything behind.
And I don't think there's any great mystery to the fact that
I kind of parlayed into a tragic
young goth pretty early.
Because all of that fear has to go somewhere.
And for me, it went into horror.
And it went into mysteries.
And so that's kind of how I segued into steampunk.
I slid in sideways as an old goth.
So it absolutely had something to do with it.
I'm fascinated with religion.
It took me a while to kind of come to peace
with that, but I have.
And I'm very interested in the things people believe and why
they believe them.
And I think especially if you're writing stuff set in
the 19th century or the modern South, you can't pretend it
You can't tell stories without addressing this as an integral
part of what's going on.
VERONICA BELMONT: Hmm, that's great.
Terpkristin was wondering--
we covered a lot of your earlier works in the earlier
part of the episode.
But she wants to know, "What do you think is the
quintessential read for a reader to be introduced to the
real Cherie Priest?
It looks like her series have steampunk and vampire themes
and memes, and what drew you to those aspects?"
CHERIE PRIEST: It's hard to say.
Because people tend to tell me, oh, I read your book.
And I've had 12 published.
And they mean "Boneshaker." And that's fine.
My resume's looking a little lopsided, but I'll take it.
But I think probably the most personal project I did is a
little one-off through Subterranean Press.
It was a novella called "Those Who Went Remain There Still."
And it's based on a family legend in my
mom's side of the family.
VERONICA BELMONT: Oh wow.
CHERIE PRIEST: They were feuding hillbillies in
Kentucky 100 years ago.
Not the Hatfields and McCoys.
Those were in the Virginias.
This was the Martin Coy feud.
And my grandma's maiden name is Coy.
And there was this really great family story about this
cave and this guy who dies and his will.
And how these men run into this cave.
And then they come out screaming and go back and
dynamite the entrance and never speak of it again, even
on their deathbeds.
And I thought, you know what this story needs?
VERONICA BELMONT: Whoa.
TOM MERRITT: Mole men.
CHERIE PRIEST: Well, it was particularly interesting to
me, because as I started digging into it a little bit,
one of the men who allegedly went into the cave-- and this
happened around the turn of the century--
was allegedly a spiritualist who was an
outcast from the family.
And he'd ended up in New England somewhere.
And on a lark, I called up the people at Lily Dale, the old
spiritualist community up there.
And they tried to help me find out if he'd ever been there.
And the whole thing was really interesting.
And so it's kind of my take on that story.
But I also find it very interesting to write about
characters who are not educated,
but who are not stupid.
I mean, I'm from rural places myself, by and large.
And I find it an interesting challenge
to treat them fairly.
And so because that was kind of about my
family members as well--
And Daniel Boone's ghost comes into it, too.
VERONICA BELMONT: What was in the cave?
CHERIE PRIEST: No one knows.
VERONICA BELMONT: Nobody knows?
CHERIE PRIEST: Nobody knows.
And allegedly, according to some sources, the last guy, on
and he lived into the 1950s--
they asked him, come on.
Tell us what happened.
What did you see?
And supposedly his last words were, no, it dies with me and
now it's done.
VERONICA BELMONT: What?
CHERIE PRIEST: So nobody knows.
VERONICA BELMONT: Ooh, I'm getting chills just even
thinking about it.
I got to read that book.
TOM MERRITT: Spelunking trip?
VERONICA BELMONT: Yeah, I think we need to go do a
little cave diving.
CHERIE PRIEST: Yeah, a little spelunking.
VERONICA BELMONT: As we do.
TOM MERRITT: Darren wants to know how you write your books.
And he says, "Do you use a fancy old pen, exotic inks
like Da Vinci and his bull's blood, iron-gall, or a
last-century wonder like the ballpoint, or software?"
CHERIE PRIEST: Software.
Right now, I'm working on a three-year-old Toshiba laptop,
through which I am talking to you.
Although I do keep notebooks.
Often legal pads where I kind of do a combination of
planning and the seat of your pants thing, as people put it.
But I get sidetracked.
And every now and again I have to kind of take like, OK, well
in the next chapter or two, what things do I need to
And I fill up scads and scads of notebooks that way and
They're being archived at a university.
It's very cool.
I couldn't imagine why anyone would want them.
And a very nice librarian does.
TOM MERRITT: That's very cool.
VERONICA BELMONT: Yeah, that's super cool.
And let's see.
Brian wants to know--
"'Boneshaker' was my introduction to Cherie Priest,
courtesy of Wil Wheaton.
And I've enjoyed everything she's written that I've laid
hands on since.
I'm wondering how things are going in 'Boneshaker' movie
land, or if nobody's talking about it because it's too
CHERIE PRIEST: Nobody's talking about it because it's
a bunch of hurry up and wait.
As I understand it--
and keeping in mind, they don't
have to tell me anything.
I'm very, very fortunate in that the guy who's doing the
script is John Hilary Shepherd, who writes "Nurse
Jackie." And he's been very, very kind to me.
He kind of keeps me in the loop, like well,
here's where we are.
Here's what we're doing.
And by the sounds of things, they've kind of gone about
Because they started with a manuscript--
or I'm sorry, with a script--
and all of the financing and these two big production
companies coming together, Hammer Films and Cross Creek.
And now they have to go find a director and actors
and things like that.
And there was maybe something to do with the sound stages in
North Carolina being occupied by "Iron Man 3" or something.
I don't know.
VERONICA BELMONT: A little indie production that they're
shooting down there.
CHERIE PRIEST: It seems like a bunch of hurry up and wait.
And they did renew the option for another year.
So they are apparently still planning on moving
forward with it.
I certainly hope so.
I just bought a new house and would like to do some
TOM MERRITT: Right.
Blame Tony Stark.
CHERIE PRIEST: Ah, Tony.
TOM MERRITT: Mark says, "In your Clockwork Century novels,
the Civil War is still raging.
Has any of your historical research provided you with
factual background for any of the imaginary weapons you've
CHERIE PRIEST: Oh, yeah.
And as for research, I'm from the southeast.
And around here, alternate theories of the Civil War are
kind of a regional pastime, you know?
I did my graduate work at the University of Tennessee at
And in the library archives there, they have these patent
applications for war machines that were mostly
pitched at the Union.
Because by the end of the war, everybody knew the South
didn't have any money anyway.
And these machines never got made.
You know, crazy tank type devices and flying
They had hydrogen power--
or hydrogen-filled balloons anyway.
And they were just really getting off
the ground with that.
But they ran out of war.
So these things never got made, which was kind of where
I got the idea in the first place to do
some American steampunk.
Because nothing drives technology like war.
And in the 19th century, we had this giant war.
And I thought, well, give it another 15 years and see what
would have come out of that.
VERONICA BELMONT: I like how you just said they were
getting off the ground with the hydrogen-filled balloons.
CHERIE PRIEST: Wacka wacka.
VERONICA BELMONT: Kwinks wants to know, "Can you ask Cherie
what she reads in her free time?
I know she has very little of it, because she works full
time and writes all these great books.
But if she does find time to read, is it all research?"
CHERIE PRIEST: Actually, I really enjoy--
I have a ridiculous nonfiction library that is all kinds of
nerdy dorky fun stuff.
And I do read that for leisure, for what it's worth.
Largely because nothing I could make up is half so weird
as stuff that actually exists or actually happened.
I love true ghost stories.
There are a handful of horror writers that I like
to keep tabs on.
I love Caitlin Kiernan.
I think she's brilliant.
And not just because, yeah, it's another southern person
writing southern gothic.
And Terry Pratchett, storyteller of our time.
I just finished the Bloggess's "Let's Pretend This Never
Happened," I think.
Which was loads of fun, because I also grew up in
rural Texas as part of a strange religious
And at one point, she makes a passing reference to a
building looking like it was occupied by the Branch
Davidians, who were ex-Adventists.
And I was in high school when that went down,
but I was in Florida.
And for a little while, there was a lot of talk at first
that they were Seventh-day Adventists who were holed up
in this compound at Waco, which stands for We Ain't
And we had people spray painting my school and making
threats against the high school.
You know, cultists go home.
And the whole thing was very strange for me.
So to see somebody else--
I'm not from Texas, but I lived there for a long time--
kind of just casually talking about it, I
laughed my *** off.
TOM MERRITT: It's funny how the localization of stuff,
even if it's not widely applicable, when you get it,
you get it really well.
It really improves things.
And finally, Tahoe says, "I'd like to thank David Brin for
introducing me to Cherie Priest.
I really liked the themes from drug addiction,
family, race, feminism.
What was it about steampunk that attracted you as an
CHERIE PRIEST: Well, like I said, I kind of slid into it
sideways as an old goth.
But well, actually speaking of Texas again-- and this is the
anecdote I tend to run to, because I
think it says plenty--
they used to--
I don't know if they still do or not-- make you take a
course in Texas history every year.
TOM MERRITT: Yes.
CHERIE PRIEST: And I was a little kid.
VERONICA BELMONT: Oh, really?
CHERIE PRIEST: I was there for I think fourth through seventh
or eighth grade.
And I read one of these little Texas history books.
It was a multi-grade classroom.
And I got a hold of one of the bigger kids' books.
And when I was through with it, I went to my teacher.
His name was Mr. Hunt.
And I would like to be clear that he was not a Texan.
He was a mean old man from somewhere else, and
I didn't like him.
But I went up to him.
I'm about 10 years old.
And I was like, Mr. Hunt.
This was great.
This is so cool.
Cowboys and shoot outs and forts and yar.
But why weren't there any women in Texas?
And he gives me his sneer.
And he's like, oh, sweetheart, there were women in Texas.
But they weren't doing anything very
interesting or important.
And I'm 10.
I'm not like Gloria Steinem over here.
But when you give me the history of our nation, as it
were, and well, apparently there were no women there as
far as I could tell.
So the great thing about steampunk, I think, and the
thing that really gives it legs is no matter who you are,
no matter your orientation, your ethnicity, your gender,
whatever your tribe, you were there.
We were all there.
But we don't always all get talked about.
And steampunk is a very nice way of reclaiming that.
Because whoever you were, whatever unpopular religion or
orientation or whatever you were back then, it's worth
And maybe more importantly, at least kind of for now, it's
worth playing with.
It's worth reappropriating and taking that back.
And steampunk is a really fun way to do that.
TOM MERRITT: If you were to recommend a book that would
get people into steampunk, what would that be?
CHERIE PRIEST: Oh my gosh.
Well, it depends on what they like.
There's a lot of great young adult steampunk.
Scott Westerfeld for young people, the "Leviathan" and
If you like romance and funny stuff, Gail Carriger's Parasol
And she's so much fun, if you get her on anything.
VERONICA BELMONT: Yeah, we're having
Gail on shortly, actually.
TOM MERRITT: Yeah, a couple of weeks.
CHERIE PRIEST: Oh, excellent.
VERONICA BELMONT: In the next couple of weeks.
CHERIE PRIEST: She is so much fun.
And the moment we log off, I'm going to
think of 50 other people.
I would point at the VanderMeers and their
anthologies or their "Steampunk Bible" and all of
that fun stuff.
It's a really good overview that includes a lot of
interesting stuff that you can kind of pick and choose
according to your tastes.
TOM MERRITT: Cool.
Well, Cherie, thank you so much for
chatting with us today.
It was really fun talking to you.
CHERIE PRIEST: Well, thank you so much for having me.
TOM MERRITT: You can follow Cherie's adventures and find
links to all her books at cheriepriest.com.
That's spelled C-H-E-R-I-E P-R-I-E-S-T dot com.
VERONICA BELMONT: Yes, and before we go, we're very happy
that Aaron has agreed to do whiteboard videos for our
TOM MERRITT: Yay!
VERONICA BELMONT: Huzzah!
Aaron is our hero.
TOM MERRITT: Yay!
VERONICA BELMONT: In his triumphant return to the
whiteboard, he takes a look at the ingredients that make
Cherie Priest's work so successful.
AARON: All writers are scientists, or at least
They measure and mix new ideas and familiar tropes, then pour
the resultant mixture into readers' brains and hope for
Cherie Priest was already an established writer when she
looked out from her tower window over the nearly vacant
fields of steampunk.
Steampunk was great.
But to make it catch fire, she needed another ingredient--
just add zombies.
The result, "Boneshaker," netted Priest a Hugo
nomination and a movie deal.
And it and the three sequels so far have provided the
steampunk genre the voice it was craving.
As an active cosplayer and conventioneer, Priest's
authentic enthusiasm for the SFF genre shines
through in her work.
And I can't help but wonder what other geeky ingredients
might find their way into her next literary mad-science
She's already tackled ninjas and aliens.
But what about ninja zombies?
Oh, oh, oh, or superhero zombies?
Yeah, superhero steampunk zombies with jet packs!
Or, you know, her choice, really.
TOM MERRITT: I think he figured out her next novel.
VERONICA BELMONT: I would like to see that.
TOM MERRITT: I would love to see that.
VERONICA BELMONT: Or read that.
TOM MERRITT: Yeah, seriously.
VERONICA BELMONT: I would like to both read
that and see that.
TOM MERRITT: I would like to eat it.
VERONICA BELMONT: That's weird.
TOM MERRITT: I don't want to eat it.
VERONICA BELMONT: Want to help put together
our guides to authors?
Send us your thoughts on our next guest, Gail Carriger, and
we'll send you a package of prizes,
including books and stickers.
I'm so excited for Gail Carriger.
Just upload your message to your favorite video hosting
provider, like YouTube, for example, and email the link to
us at email@example.com.
TOM MERRITT: Well, that about wraps it up for us, folks.
If you're looking for more great things to read, though,
be sure to watch our book club episodes where we read a book
a month and give great ideas for lots of books to
read, old and new.
Subscribe to our YouTube channel.
It's the green button up there in the corner at
Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
And our Goodreads forum is Goodreads.com.
Thanks again to Cherie Priest.
We'll see you all next time.
VERONICA BELMONT: Bye!
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